OSHA Guardrail & Handrail Requirements
Employers must provide guardrails along any exposed edge of walking-working surfaces 4' or higher, according to OSHA regulations. All guardrails must be 42" high, nominal. Midrails, screen or panels are required for guardrail systems where there is no wall or parapet at least 21" high.
OSHA's guardrail height requirements include a variance of plus or minus 3". Guardrail systems that are not at least 42" high can be cited as a technical violation.
Must Withstand 200 lbs.
All guardrail systems must be able to hold at least 200 lbs. of pressure pushing out and down on the railing. Downward pressure should not bend railing past 39" above its walking-working surface. To test this, apply an appropriate force within 2" of the railing's top edge.
Must Be Smooth
Guardrail system surfaces must be smooth. Smooth surfaces help protect personnel from injuries and prevent job-site hazards.
Must Be 1/4"
The minimum thickness for guardrails, midrails and vertical members is 1/4" in diameter.
No Overhanging Rails
The ends of top rails and midrails of a guardrail system must not extend past the final post. The only exception to this rule is where the overhang does not present a projection hazard.
Midrails, Panels & Equivalents
OSHA regulations permit midrails, screens, meshes and vertical members in guardrail systems. These members must be able to hold at least 150 lbs. of outward and downward pressure, and openings between members must not exceed 19".
- Midrails—installed between the top edge and walking-working surface no more than 19" apart
- Screens and meshes—cover the entire opening between the top edge and walking-working surface
- Intermediate vertical members—installed no more than 19" apart
- Other equivalent intermediate members—installed with no opening more than 19" wide
- Steel and plastic banding—not allowed as top rails or midrails
Handrails are part of a fall protection plan. Like guardrails, OSHA regulations provide specific handrail and stair rail requirements.
Handrails must be 30–38" above the leading edge of the stair tread. This is measured from the top surface of the handrail.
Stair Rail Height
Systems mounted before 01/17/2017 must be 30" or higher. Systems mounted after 01/17/2017 must be 42" or higher. Both measurements are from the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the handrail.
Stair Rails as Handrails
Systems can use stair rails as handrails if they meet strength tolerance, finger clearance, handhold, opening, surface texture and projection hazards requirements. These systems may be mounted 36-38" high.
Handrails must be able to hold 200 lbs. of downward or outward pressure. Like guardrails, apply an appropriate force within 2" of the railing's top edge to test.
There must be at least 2 1/4" of clearance between the handrail and any other object or surface. This includes walls and guardrails.
Handrails must be of a size and shape so that personnel can grasp rail firmly.
Like midrails and equivalents, openings in handrail systems must be no more than 19".
Handrail surfaces must be smooth. Smooth surfaces help protect personnel from injuries and prevent hazards.
Handrails and stair rail system ends must not present a projection hazard.
Guardrails are meant to protect personnel and other job-site hazards from falling to lower levels. Handrails are meant to provide support and guidance along stairways and platforms. Both must be smooth to touch and able to withstand 200 lbs. of pressure, though the height requirements vary.
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Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 1910.29 - Fall Protection Systems and Falling Object Protection-Criteria and Practices. 2019